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DUAL REALITY: ‘City of Angels’ walks the line between real and ‘reel’ world

Hollywood circa 1940’s film-noir genre comes alive onstage this week.

Just a few years ago, the West End of London welcomed the revival of the 1990 award-winning “City of Angels”—a musical comedy with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel and book by Larry Gelbart. It’s a show basking in the film-noir genre of 1940s Hollywood, proving to be stylistically captivating in its period costuming and musically engaging thanks to the swing and jazz sounds indicative of the era. Wilmington theatre-goers will see it come to life starting Wednesday, Aug. 31, as Opera House Theatre Company opens “City of Angels” at Thalian Hall.

HIT THE ROAD, JACK: Sam Robison as Stone, a writer, and his wife, Gabby, played by Kendra Goehring-Garrett have a lover’s quarrel.  Photo by Erik Maasch

HIT THE ROAD, JACK: Sam Robison as Stone, a writer, and his wife, Gabby, played by Kendra Goehring-Garrett have a lover’s quarrel. Photo by Erik Maasch

The show follows a novelist, Stine (Sam Robison), as he tackles his latest script about a detective named Stone (Ken Griggs). Stone is trying to solve the mystery of a missing heiress in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, also known as the City of Angels. The show intertwines both narratives: Stine as he tries to make his novel into a funny screenplay—and deal with the pressure of Tinsel Town alongside a failing marriage—and Stone as he solves this dramatic mystery.

Veteran Opera House director Ray Kennedy will be leading the show, with Jason Aycock assisting in the direction and playing crooner Jimmy Powers in the play. “It’s very challenging to tell the story of a ‘movie within the play, and the back story of real life while the movie is being written and shot,”  Kennedy admits. “ But the black and white of the movie versus the technicolor of ‘real life’ helps immensely.”

Thus set and lighting design help propel the plot and dictate timeline more so than other productions. Terry Collins of Scenic Asylum is crafting the world most effectively. He and Kennedy have designed a set that divides the stage into three sections to help keep the action between the worlds in motion and compartmentalized. Likewise, Opera House has hired more back-stage crew to nail its fluidity.

“Selina Harvey’s costume design is integral to the show, too,” Kennedy tells. “Lots of period costume pieces—some black/white/grey and others in color.”

While the visual spectacle of it all transforms time and place, the actors, too, have to come armed with an arsenal of tools to take on multiple characters. The leads are two-toned in the show, meaning each actor will play dual characters, one in the real world and the other in the “reel world,” so to speak.

Local actress and stunner Kendra Goehring-Garrett will return to the stage after having her first child over the spring. She will play Stine’s wife Gabby and Stone’s lover Bobbi.

“I think the challenge for me is to find similarities in these women, while still making them distinct and different characters,” Goehring-Garrett says. “It’s exciting (makes me nervous, too) and challenging.”

Kennedy says the witty and smart dialogue craft depth, including with Goehring-Garrett’s Gabby. A lot of the songs are integral to the script because the lyrics are plot points and character builders.

“You learn a lot in the songs,” Kennedy notes. “Musicals don’t always have this caveat, but this one surely does. Two women sing in [‘What You Don’t Know About Women’] about how the leading men ‘give us some truth for atmosphere, but we can see right through you’—incredibly interesting and smart lyric.”

The show features more musicians in the pit than Opera House has had in its season all year. Combined with the talent of onstage leads, it will be quite a feat to pull off, but one Kennedy says should be relatively easy thanks to his stellar cast.

“Sam [Robison], Ken Griggs from Fayetteville, Kendra [Goehring-Garrett], Heather Setzler, Caitin Becka, Justin Smith, Shanon Playl, and David Autry from NYC . . . Every actor in this show has a part; there is no ‘ensemble’ per se.”

City of Angels
Aug. 31-Sept. 4, 9-11, 8 p.m. or Sun., 3 p.m.
Tickets: $20 GA, $18 seniors, students and military; $15 on Thursdays
Thalian Hall • 310 Chestnut St.
(910) 632-2285

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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